Specialty tags upset some people



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Neither Gary Sherman nor Darlene Kobobel expected to get into a political fight in the Colorado Legislature.

After all, both wanted state lawmakers to approve new specialty license plates for their pet causes.

Sherman is an Aspen resident and founder of the Adopt a Pet Foundation; Kobobel is president of the Wolf & Wildlife Center near Divide.

Sherman wants to raise awareness and money for pet shelters; Kobobel wants to raise awareness about wolves.

The two went through the required steps to get their individual measures introduced into the Legislature, including getting petitions from thousands of people who promised to purchase their plates.

Along the way, both learned that even something as seemingly innocuous as a license plate can have a tough time under the golden dome.

“When I started this thing I said this is just a license plate, but this has become incredible,” Sherman said. “It’s like this is a gay rights bill or an abortion bill.”

In addition to the standard Colorado license plate with white mountains and green sky, motorists have 69 specialty plates to choose from.

Some are intended to honor a limited number of people, such as Medal of Honor winners or Pearl Harbor survivors, while others are directed at general groups, such as the Boy Scouts of America or the Protective Order of the Elks.

Plates can make statements, raise awareness or be used as a point of pride.

But sometimes they can upset people, particularly if they attempt to forward a cause others don’t agree with.

At the start of the 2010 legislative session in January, six new plates were introduced,  including the ones Sherman and Kobobel wanted to get. Others this year are for limousines, retired military vehicles, Colorado state parks and veterans of the Iraq-Afghanistan wars.

Rep. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, is carrying two of those bills.

The Western Slope lawmaker said he backs the parks plate as a way of helping not only the eight state parks in his House district raise additional funds, but also all the rest in the state. It’s expected to raise about $143,000 for parks over the next two years.

The military plate bill came from constituents who have retired military vehicles that they drive only occasionally, such as in parades, he said.

Baumgardner said he knows not everyone likes every plate that comes down the pike, and sometimes they get killed for political reasons. But it’s not the Republican-versus-Democrat type of politics that normally dominates life at the Capitol. Sometimes it’s two different constituencies, such as ranchers versus wolf lovers.

“I was one of the no’s in committee due to the fact that I have cattle and sheep in my area and the ranchers didn’t particularly care for a plate promoting wolves,” the Western Slope legislator said. “People are kind of protective of their areas.”

Kobobel ran into those politics as she watched the House Appropriations Committee kill her plate bill last month.

“That took me by surprise because of the money the state would stand to gain because there are so many wolf lovers,” she said. “The ranchers outnumbered others on that board, but we’re going to try again next year.”

Unaffiliated Rep. Kathleen Curry, a rancher from Gunnison, said she opposed it not because she doesn’t like wolves, but because there are already too many specialty plates as it is. She did, however, vote for the adopt-a-pet plate.

Sherman, too, faced his share of politics in the Capitol over that plate, but all of it came from one lawmaker: Rep. Wes McKinley, a Democrat from southeast Colorado and the only actual cowboy in the Legislature.

McKinley primarily objected to Sherman’s planned use of proceeds from the plate for educational programs. McKinley said he believes Sherman’s real intent is to divert some of that money to lobbying groups such as the Humane Society of the United States, which he said is more about “indoctrinating” people and not educating them.

McKinley said he’s no fan of the Humane Society, in part, because he disagrees with its stance on how chickens and pigs are caged in commercial egg and pork plants.

“We’re going to spend money to teach sex education to cats?” McKinley said with a straight face. “Why don’t we just shoot the damn things?”

Sherman, whose neighbor, Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, is carrying his bill, said most of the money would go directly to shelters, and the education aspect would focus on the importance of spay and neuter programs.

He said all of McKinley’s objections are “out of left field” and aren’t shared by other legislators.

“He also was concerned that the design of the paw on the plate only had four pads instead of five,” Sherman said. “Really. I’m not kidding.”


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